Sammy Sosa in the Cubs’ first home game after 9/11 (9/27/2001).
Dear Ingrate NFL Millionaires,
Here is what a real man, William Harvey Carney, did back when America actually oppressed blacks:
Carney joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in March 1863 as a Sergeant. He took part in the July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. (The attack on Fort Wagner is depicted in the film Glory.) It was in this attack that Carney’s actions ultimately earned him the Medal of Honor. When the color guard was fatally wounded, Carney retrieved the American flag from his comrade and marched forward with it, despite suffering multiple serious wounds. When the Union troops were forced to retreat under fire, Carney struggled back across the battlefield. He eventually made his way back to his own lines and turned over the colors to another survivor of the 54th, modestly saying, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!”
From Mark Steyn:
Three years ago, I wrote in National Review:
Let us accept for the sake of argument that racism is bad, that homophobia is bad, that Islamophobia is bad, that offensive utterances are bad, that mean-spirited thoughts are bad. So what?
As bad as they are, the government’s criminalizing all of them and setting up an enforcement regime in the interests of micro-regulating us into compliance is a thousand times worse.
Likewise, as bad as Donald Sterling is, what the NBA is doing is a thousand times worse:
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful. That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage,” [Commissioner Adam] Silver said. “I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers association or the NBA. Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, he may not be present at any Clippers facility, and he may not participate in any business or decisions involving the team.”
Everyone seems to agree that Sterling is a racist and always has been: He said he wouldn’t rent apartments to blacks because they smell; and he has referred to the players of his Los Angeles Clippers as “niggers”. All this has apparently been widely known for years, although not so well known that the NAACP hasn’t lavished multiple awards on him, including his now hastily canceled Lifetime Achievement Award. Which seems odd.
But Mr Sterling’s peerless record for Extraordinary Achievement in Racism is not the reason he has been banned for life by Commissioner Silver. Mr Silver is exiling Sterling only because of what he said in a private shouting-match with his mistress recorded without his knowledge and leaked to the press. As I understand it, owning an NBA franchise is roughly analogous to owning a home in a gated community, and Commissioner Silver is the enforcer from the homeowners’ association. Even so, it is disturbing to see (as Bill Quick put it) “the use of a man’s property be taken from him because of the way he expressed himself“. And not just any property but a billion-dollar property the man has owned for a third of a century. Solely over views expressed in the course of a two-minute rant at his mistress about the other guys she pals around with.
Before the decision, Bill Maher Tweeted:
Sterling def. a racist,but take away his team? Clippers shldn’t have played yesterday? Calm down,being an asshole is still legal in America
I’m not so sure being an asshole is still legal in America. Mr Silver has also fined Sterling $2.5 million – for something he said in his own home recorded without his knowledge. In a free society you should be able to make racist remarks in private without being fined and losing your property rights. Because the alternative is worse.
~Years ago, I met with a Russian oligarch, which is to say a man far richer than Donald Sterling, and with plenty of enemies. At the start of the meeting, everyone switched off their mobile phones and put them on the table. So I did, too. Then everyone removed the SIM cards. Which I’d never seen anyone do before, but evidently was routine to these chaps. So I fumbled with the back of my phone, and got mine out, too. And afterwards I did something wrong trying to jam the card back in, and the thing never worked again. Which didn’t really bother me, as I barely make one cell phone call a month. But I was struck by the way these Russkie fellows lived their lives on the assumption that, wherever you were, whatever you were doing, there was always someone trying to record you, trying to get the goods on you.
Professional bodies in civilized societies should not be lending respectability to this practice. Technology is moving us inexorably into a world with less privacy. A world with no privacy at all – no privacy even to bawl out a lover – will change human behavior, and not in a good way. Donald Sterling’s weirdly refined sense of propriety – he’s happy to sleep with a black mistress, and he’s happy for his black mistress to sleep with black men, but he doesn’t want his black mistress Instagramming with her black men – derives in part from the bubble in which extremely rich men live, especially in America. The cautionary tale of his downfall will serve to drive the rich, simply out of self-protection, into even deeper insulation from ordinary life. That’s not a good thing.
From Bernard Goldberg:
So Donald Sterling got what amounts to the death sentence. Banned for life by the NBA. His ugly remarks are proof, as I’ve said before, not that racism is alive and well in America, but rather that racism is on its last leg. The man has been publicly branded a pariah. The American people have made him an outcast. You think any of that would have happened if we really were a racist nation, as some would have us believe?
But now that he’s gone, I’m wondering who else among us has said things in the privacy of our homes that would get us in trouble if somebody recorded them and made our remarks public.
Rest assured, I’ve never ever said anything that might even vaguely be construed as politically incorrect. But I’ll bet you have.
And I’ll bet a lot of players in the NBA have.
I’ll bet a lot of politicians have, too.
I’ll bet white people have and black people have and Latino people have and straight people have and gay people have.
So what lesson should we take of the public flogging of Donald Sterling, as deserved as it was?
How about this: If anyone – an accountant, a garbage man, an MSNBC host, a college professor, an attorney general, a president, a truck driver … anyone! … says something racist in the privacy of his or her home, and if it somehow becomes public information, that person should lose his or her job and his or her livelihood – because racist words cannot be tolerated in America, not in 2014.
I understand that Sterling had a high-profile job and that the NBA is pretty much a black league. So his dumb remarks were especially hurtful. But if we want to stamp out racism, what better way than to hold everybody accountable for what they say – no matter where they say it!
I am confused, however, about why there is no universal condemnation of athletes who father children in every city in the league. Or of athletes who beat up their girlfriends. Or of athletes who drive drunk and kill people. I guess none of those things warrant the moral outrage that bigoted words uttered by a foolish old man in private warrant.
But let me be clear: I’m outraged over what Donald Sterling said. Really, really outraged. I say this because if anyone thinks I’m less than really, really outraged because of anything I’ve written here, I might get in really, really big trouble.
One more thing: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a piece for Time magazine about Sterling and racism. After making clear his disgust with the now-banned owner of the Clippers, Abdul-Jabbar writes this:
“Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.”
Nicely put, Kareem!
As Jonah Goldberg explains, the distinction between public and private is vitally important:
I hold no brief for Donald Sterling. My storehouse of sympathy runs bare long before I get to billionaire bigots and loudmouths. But it’s worth pondering the fact that Sterling’s loudmouthery was in a private conversation (unlike, say, Jesse Jackson’s “hymietown” remark which was made to a black reporter he just assumed he could speak freely to without being exposed). Mel Gibson’s damning remarks were made during a drunken rant. The Reverend Billy Graham, pretty much a moral hero and a great champion of religious tolerance in public life, said some awful things about Jews in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon. Anthony Weiner, neither a hero nor a champion of much other than his own interests, never said anything bigoted, but he sent lewd pictures of himself to young women who were not his wife. Tiger Woods . . . well, you remember all that.
I’m reminded of a wonderful op-ed the (wonderful) late Leonard Garment wrote in 1999 as then-new transcripts of Richard Nixon’s taped conversations were being released. Garment recounted how Nixon appointed numerous Jews in his administration and then concluded:
Thus we must face the Nixon Paradox. His anti-Semitic outbursts in the private conversations found virtually no correspondence in his speech or actions outside those explosions.
At this point in our politics we should find this juxtaposition less implausible than we once might have. President Clinton was impeached, partly for reasons having to do with the administration of justice, but largely because of his private actions. Yet the country, with unmistakable clarity, declared that his private failings were not to determine our judgment of his public character.
Those who consider this verdict reasonable should consider how much more forcefully its logic applies to the private conversations of public persons. The best expression I have found of this logic comes from Milan Kundera, the Czech novelist whose country under Communism learned some lessons about the consequences of trampling the distinction between public and private.
”In private,” Mr. Kundera wrote in an essay, ”a person says all sorts of things, slurs friends, uses coarse language . . . makes a companion laugh by shocking him with outrageous talk, floats heretical ideas he’d never admit in public.”
Mr. Kundera argues that this difference is not a mere curiosity but a fundamental fact: ”That we act different in private than in public is everyone’s most conspicuous experience, it is the very ground of the life of the individual. Yet curiously this obvious fact remains unconscious, unacknowledged . . . ”
Mr. Kundera worries about this obliviousness, as we should, because an understanding of the distinction between public and private speech is indispensable to a decent politics — one built upon respect for individual privacy, a fundamental ingredient of freedom. What is on the Nixon tapes is undeniably ugly. It is for us to decide, however, what effect this private talk should have on our evaluation of Nixon’s public life.
It says something about Sterling that you cannot offer the same defense of him. There is far more congruity between the public and private Sterlings than the public and private Nixons. Similarly, it’s interesting and even significant to note that Lyndon Johnson said some terrible things about blacks, but they hardly have any weight on the scales when put alongside his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.
One last point. A common expression goes something like “character is what you do when no one is watching,” though I always preferred “character is what you do when only God is watching.” Neither aphorism is entirely fitting since all of these instances involved at least one other person. But it’s worth noting and pondering the fact that in an era of ubiquitous cell-phone cameras, recording devices, big data trawling, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter etc. the realm of what is truly private is shrinking by the hour and will likely continue to shrink in one way or another for the rest of our lives. Character may remain what we do when we think no one is watching — or listening or taking notes — but the likelihood no one is watching is increasingly remote. What that means for decent politics is anyone’s guess.
After watching the gruesome injury suffered by Louisville Guard Kevin Ware in a game against Duke on Sunday, I was moved by a genuine act of compassion. While the initial reaction of nearly everyone on the Louisville team was to cover his face and keep his distance, one player went to Kevin Ware’s side, knelt down, and comforted him.